To bad networkers, it’s all “me, me, me.”
We see them. We want to escape them. We hope we act nothing like them.
But we all probably do.
The art of networking is the art of conversation, with a significant difference. When you’re networking, your goal isn’t just to be interesting. It’s to build relationships that will help you build other things.
That requires confidence, curiosity, a welcoming posture and a respect for busy people’s limited time.
Capable networkers slip up here and there, because we’re human, and this is hard.
Bad networkers make the following 15 networking traps a habit. Got a networking event coming up? (Maybe GeekWire Startup Day Jan. 30?) Take note:
Brag. I know. Networking gives us a chance to feel important, and how can people cooperate if we don’t keep them informed? If you find yourself name dropping and award listing more than you’d like, remember: A brag is only humble if a) it’s relevant to the conversation and b) it gives the people you’re talking to useful information about how you could connect.
Talk to the same people. Networking events are a lot more comfortable when we treat them like meetups with friends in places crowded with strangers. Of course, that misses the entire point. Checking in with your friends keeps things lively and gives you a break from all those exhausting introductions. But if it’s all you’ve got, you might as well be at a bar.
Tell inside jokes. There’s no easier, more subtle way to push out new people joining your circle than to share a laugh they can’t enjoy. If you slip up on this one, fix it: Explain the joke to the newbies before the awkwardness takes its toll.
Monologue. Some people have a spidey sense for how much they’ve been talking versus the other gal. Others have absolutely no clue. If it’s been a couple minutes and you’ve been doing all the talking, or worse, you notice he stopped nodding or even smiling two stories ago, shut up, smile and ask a question. One that prods for common ground, if possible. Or maybe one of these.
Linger. Some conversations are short. Others long. For everyone’s sake, know when they’re over. Maybe you’re still there because you can’t think of a good way out. Or maybe there’s something you want to bring up with this person but don’t know how. Either way, if you’re just filling in pauses, it’s time to go, and a simple goodbye will do it. You can always come back later.
Fix your gaze. Hardly anyone pays attention to eye contact, but it says so much about who people are actually talking to. Looking people in the eye when you talk to them is great. But in a group conversation, fixing your gaze on one person as you talk cuts everyone else out. It might even reveal more than you want: Is the person you’re looking at the one you’re most intimidated by? Or the one you most want to impress?
Stay serious. Meeting people is hard work. Tension builds up quick, and laughter releases it. Take it all too seriously and the people you’re talking to will find an exit.
Hug and run. It’s the signature move of the networker who is a little bit too successful: A hello and a hug, but no time to talk with everyone he kind of knows. If you find yourself in this enviable position, try to ask at least one question of everyone you see. And see if a friend or colleague wouldn’t mind treking across the room to get you a drink. You’ll never make it.
Start with the pitch. It’s generally a bad idea to ask people for something when you barely know them. You toe the line when you’re launching a product or company — what if the conversation doesn’t last long enough to broach the topic gracefully? But as a rule, make sure the other person has had a minute of talk time before you start the sale.
Forget names. Everybody does it and everybody laughs about it, but it really doesn’t feel great when the person you just met forgets your name minutes after you gave it. A good tip: As soon as someone introduces themselves, say their name back to them. “Nice to meet you, Sarah.” It makes a difference.
Speak softly. It’s funny when you think about it, but it’s actually good that you have to speak up to be heard at most networking events. The ideal networking noise level is loud enough to support hundreds of private conversations, but not so loud that you have to scream to be heard. If you suspect you speak too quietly, you probably do. Spare your new acquaintances from having to pretend they heard you when they couldn’t. Turn it up.
Get tipsy. Because we’re tired, and because meeting people can be hard work, almost all evening networking events come with alcohol. Don’t abuse it. You want to loosen up, not lose yourself. Get a little too crazy and people notice.
Leave them hanging. You’re in a conversation, the person you’re talking to is halfway through a story, and someone else cuts in to say hi — to you. The easy thing is to let them take over. The better thing to do is to turn the crash into a merge. Make introductions, think of what the people you know have in common, and make it easy for them to hit it off.
Wear uncomfortable clothes. I’m not kidding. And yes, this is mostly for you, ladies. Those heels may look great, but are you going to want to make conversation standing in them for two whole hours? That purse fits everything you own, but do you want it weighing you down tonight, pinning you to a table? Don’t doom your endurance. Come prepared.
Posse. Networking is not a team sport. When you travel in a group, you make yourselves less approachable and lower your chances of meeting someone new. Arrive with friends, then scatter. Compare notes at the end of the night.